Jesse Corti – Beauty and the Beast (25th Anniversary)

September 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It’s been 25 years since the classic animated film “Beauty and the Beast” made it’s theatrical debut. Not surprising, it is still easily one of the most beloved ever released by Disney studios and only one of the three animated films in cinematic history to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

In celebration of the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray on Sept. 20, I got the opportunity to interview actor Jesse Corti, the man behind the voice of LeFou in the original film. LeFou is the short, bumbling sidekick of the film’s main villain Gaston. Along with being Gaston’s punching bag, he helps him trick a village mob into infiltrating the Beast’s castle in an attempt to kill him.

During our interview, Corti, 61, who is of Venezuelan decent, talked to me about what he remembers most from his time as LeFou and whether or not he is looking forward to the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” next year.

Why do you think a film like “Beauty and the Beast” has been able to transcend generations so well since debuting at theaters 25 years ago? I have a five-year-old daughter and I’ve seen the film countless times in the past three years or so.

I think it’s because of the theme it has about inner beauty. What I really enjoy about it is that you have Belle who is an independent person and a person that kind of goes a little bit against society. She reads books and has dreams. But there’s a difference between living a dream and dreaming a dream. She has ideas of what she wants to do with her life. That’s a great example for girls and boys as well. There’s a positive message there for your young daughter who will eventually become a young woman.

What do you remember the most about how you got the role to play LeFou 25 years ago?

I remember I was doing “Les Misérables” on Broadway. We had just opened. [Disney] was looking to audition people [for “Beauty and the Beast”] who could sing and act. What I remember most is doing the show and going to the auditions at that time. “Beauty and the Beast” was the first voice over work I did for Disney. I was also able to do the voice work for the Spanish version of the film. That was a neat thing for me to do.

These days, animated studios aren’t necessarily looking for Broadway stars to lend their voice to their animated movies. They want Hollywood celebrities. Do you wish studios weren’t so reliant on celebrity status and name recognition and would cast actors that fit the role best?

Yes, but it’s a market issue. When you have a star, people will sometimes go see a star regardless of what they’re in. Not that many people know Mel Gibson was in “Pocahontas.” It works when you have great actors and great stars who can also sing. Take “Frozen.” You have actors who are stars that can actually sing. Disney bats 1,000 when they get that. In “Beauty and the Beast” we had stars like Angela Lansbury, but we were all Broadway stars, too. That was the beauty of it. Disney started that trend of getting really great people from the stage. That’s why you have all these movies that are going to the stage. You’re getting Broadway to the movies and, now, movies to Broadway.

What did you think the first time you saw an image of what LeFou was going to look like back in the early 90s?

At the time when I was doing “Les Misérables” on Broadway my hair was very long. I did have a ponytail like LeFou has. I’m short. Well, I’m not as big as Gaston, who is like 6’5. I’m barely 5’7. Originally, the character, at least the way they drew him, was sort of a big doofus kind of guy. I kept that illustration. He was a big doofy guy. I did his voice for them and then asked if I could do something else. They were like, “Yes, whatever you wan to do!” You try to come close to a voice that matches the character they’ve illustrated.

I always lose count how many times Gaston hits LeFou in the movie. Do you know how many times he gets hit?

I’ve never kept count, but it has to be something like 30 times. He gets kicked, hit and whacked a lot when he’s in the castle. I do remember recording him scream.

We don’t see this in the movie, but how do you think LeFou would’ve reacted to the news of Gaston’s death?

Oh, boy. I think LeFou would be very sad because he loves Gaston with all his heart. Gaston gives him a reason to live. He’s with the most popular, strongest, most handsome person. Because of that, he has a little bit of power throughout the village.

Next year, we’re going to get a live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.” We’ve seen this before, of course, with “Cinderella” and “Maleficent.” How do you feel about these classic films getting re-imagined in this way?

I think it’s great. I love those movies you just mentioned. I have really enjoyed them. I think it’s a neat way for a younger audience to see it. I think LeFou looks the least human of all the humans in “Beauty and the Beast.” But I like that they’re going to do a live version. Why not? If they do it well, hooray! The trailer looks awesome. I think it’s going to be very, very successful. It only helps “Beauty and the Beast,” the animated film.

Josh Gad is going to be playing LeFou in the live-action version. What do you hope to see from the new LeFou?

Josh is such a wonderful performer and a funny guy. I’ve never seen him do anything bad. I remember when I first saw him on stage in [The 25th Annual Putnam County] Spelling Bee. He was wonderful. I think he’s going to be great as LeFou. I can’t wait to see it. Everyone brings their own style. I brought my own thing to LeFou and he’ll bring his own to the live-action. So, I can’t want to see it. And if he’s not good, I’m going to let him know about it!

Scott McGehee & David Siegel – What Maisie Knew (DVD)

August 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the emotionally poignant drama “What Maisie Knew,” directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (“Bee Season”) tell the story of a divorce through the eyes of a 6-year-old girl (Onata Aprile). The film was adapted from a late 19th-century novel by author Henry James.

During our interview, McGehee and Siegel talked to me about their amazing experience working with young actress Onata Aprile and shared with me what they were thinking one night on set when Onata fell asleep at a most inopportune time.

“What Maisie Knew” was released on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 13.

What was the casting process like for Maisie and what led you to an actress as natural as Onata Aprile?

David Siegel: It was certainly something we were concerned about. We thought that authenticity and simplicity was something that were important touchstones for the character. You want audiences to be with her as strongly as possible. We went through a long casting process – about four months – and saw hundreds of kids. We didn’t find Onata until we were less than a month from production. It was scary.

As you’re auditioning all these kids, who would you cut right away? Would you cut the kids who were “acting” too much?

Scott McGehee: It was a process. I mean, we came into the process thinking we needed an older girl who could play younger. We learned really quickly that there was something honest and innocent about 6-year-olds that we weren’t seeing in older girls. Some kids were really good at learning lines, but they lacked a simple authenticity. Some kids you could tell just weren’t mature enough to do it. Those were the two extremes. We knew the whole movie was going to hang on Maisie, so we needed a kid we were going to fall in love with and who was going to break your heart and who was going to be engaging to watch.

You had worked with a young actress before in “Bee Season,” although not as young as Onata. How does your approach as a director change when working with someone so young?

DS: You know, it’s really interesting because Onata could really work and play with the other actors like a grown up. Once we started rolling, she was able to act in a scene like a grown up. She didn’t really require a lot of extra preparation or coddling in any kind of way. She didn’t require us to shoot around her in any particular way. She is so natural and able to live in front of the camera. With [actress] Flora Cross in “Bee Season” – not that she’s not a talented actress – it required a lot more preparation and special help because Flora was pre-adolescent and more awkward in her body and more self-conscious. All of these things we found didn’t get in the way with Onata.

SM: Even watching Onata now at 8-years-old, I have confidence that she would be as interesting in a movie now as when she was six. We definitely saw some tendencies. There was a line of demarcation between ages six and seven. Even before we chatted with a little girl, we could tell if she was six or seven. (Laughs) We thought we were experts.

I read a story about a night you guys went out to shoot a scene and Onata fell asleep. As directors, what do you do at that point?

DS: Cry. (Laughs) I don’t know how much you heard about that experience but it was really dicey because it was Alexander [Skarsgard’s] last week of production. We had crammed so much work in those last two days for him. We were a little behind. We knew there was no way we were going to get back to that location. And Onata was asleep, so we couldn’t shoot the scene with her. We had to figure out what we needed from Alexander without Onata in the scene before we could let him go. It was a bit of a panic.

Well, I have to ask this question since it’s so logical: Why didn’t you just wake her up?

SM: (Laughs) Well, I’m not sure we wanted to wake up a 6-year-old at 10 p.m. and ask her to deliver a performance. (Laughs) I mean, I don’t know. She just wasn’t wakeupable.

DS: Her mom also told us that wouldn’t work. She said once she was asleep she was down. But it’s tricky. There’s a fine line between wanting a kid to give you a professional performance and child abuse.

I’m assuming you wouldn’t have been so nice if it was Steve Coogan who fell asleep.

SM: (Laughs) We would’ve wakened Steve Coogan.

DS: (Laughs) Yeah, we would’ve kicked him a couple of times.

There was a lot of debate last year when actress Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Some people argued that, while she was amazing in the film, her performance was more about what the director was able to pull from her through certain techniques as less about her making a conscious effort to act. Did you feel like Onata knew she was acting because I know you used the word “pretend” on the set?

SM: Early on, we kind of stopped using that word on the set, which was interesting. That was a request by her mother. Do you remember that, David?

DS: Not entirely.

SM: She said we shouldn’t talk about it as “pretend.” We should talk about it as a different kind of thing. Maybe there is a semantic difference between pretending and acting. But I would say Onata was acting. She understood the emotional stakes of a scene. She was playing a character in a moment just like any other actor. Her process wasn’t so different.

DS: I would say unequivocally Onata was acting.

SM: It’s a strange thing that Onata in “What Maisie Knew” was doing the same thing 41-year-old Tilda Swinton was doing for us in “The Deep End” (in 2001). You want to say, “But she’s only six,” but that really is Onata’s performance. It was kind of a thing to behold. Everyone on set – the cast, technicians, crew – saw it. They knew they were watching something unusual.

It’s really interesting because director Benh Zeitlin has said for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” when a scene called for Quvenzhané to cry, he and other members of the crew would tell her stories about people they lost in their lives and were able to pull her emotions out that way. How do you feel about that? I mean, he got the performance he wanted from her, but he didn’t let it necessarily unfold in a natural way.

DS: I don’t really judge him for that at all. I think that’s fine. You’re putting together pieces bit by bit and creating something discretely. Then you string them together to create a continuous emotional experience. It’s all artifice. It’s all a trick if you want to think about it that way. With any actor, you’ll take a reaction in a way that wasn’t in continuity and you’ll put it in because it works. That’s the process of montage. We were prepared for that sort of enterprise. We had different strategies to affect a look or a mood. It just happens that in Onata’s case, she was an actress.

So, did she actually know she was making a movie about a divorce, or did you work around those aspects of the story?

SM: No, she understood the story to the extent a 6-year-old understands that kind of a story. She understood Maisie was a little girl who was left alone a lot by her parents. Both of her parents loved her but were unable to really show her the love she deserved – and on and on from there. Onata understood that story clearly.

DS: So, in a scene it would be us telling her something like, “You’re at breakfast with your dad and you want to go to England with him but he’s going to say goodbye instead. How would that make you feel?” That was the level of our conversation with Onata. It was very much telling her the scenario and asking her what emotional experience that suggested to her. Then, that’s what she would give us.

David M. Evans – The Sandlot (20th Anniv.)

June 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

On tour to promote the 20th anniversary of his 1993 classic film “The Sandlot,” which includes the release of a new DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, director/writer David M. Evans took some time between ballparks to talk to me about how the film has spanned generations and what props he was able to keep after production. He also told me about the “most important piece of direction” he gave actor Chauncey Leopardi (Squints) on the day he was scheduled to shoot his famous swimming pool kissing scene with actress Marley Shelton (Wendy Peffercorn).

When you were making “The Sandlot” back in 1993, did you think you were making a movie that would resonate with audiences 20 years later?

Well, I think you always hope for something like that. But to actually consider that it would happen, no. There is absolutely no way you can know or predict anything like that. If it’s a good story and well told, then you have a chance even though the chance is still astronomically small. But it ends up coming down to the fans. It’s well into its third or fourth generation of fans now who love it as much as when it first came out – probably more.

It must be an amazing feeling to see adults who loved the movie when they were kids now going back and sharing it with their children.

Oh, definitely. It’s a big deal. I think I’ve done about eight or nine screenings on this tour and at the one in Springdale, Arkansas at Arvest Park, I had a grandfather come up to me – maybe in his late 70s – and buy 12 copies of the 20th Anniversary DVD. He said, “OK, Mr. Evans, please sign this one for me. Please sign this one for my wife. These are for my children. These are for my grandchildren. And these are for my great-grandchildren.” It was an awesome moment. It made me cry.

When was the point where you thought, “Hey, maybe this movie is going to have longevity?”

The first time I had any indication was right around the apex of the VHS revolution. I think “The Sandlot” sold just about a million units in the rental market, which was remarkable. You didn’t see that happen for a non-animated Disney movie or a non-tent pole movie. It was just this little movie about friendship and baseball. I really knew it was here to stay when the DVD revolution hit in the mid to late 90s and everything went crazy. Millions and millions of units were selling all over the world all the time and it never showed any signs of stopping. I thought, “Wow, this movie must really mean something to people.” That’s probably when I knew it was a phenomenon and had a life of its own.

Do you own “The Sandlot” on VHS?

I definitely own it on VHS. Not only do I own it on VHS, I’m probably the only guy in the world that owns the movie on every single format. I have an anamorphic 35mm print. I even have the laser disc.

What props were you able to keep from the film?

I have some of the most important props. I actually used to have all the Beast puppets, but they were stored in a warehouse that burnt to the ground, so I lost them all. But I do have a couple of Beast paws for those shots where the dog was grabbing the ball. I have a lot of the stuff that was inside Mr. Mertle’s (James Earl Jones) baseball room. I have Squints’ original glasses. I have a bunch of baseball gloves. You name it and I’ve got it. It’s in the design phase right now, but I’m going to open up my own bar and grill. All of that stuff is going to go inside there. One of the best things I have is the original photo of all the boys that was mounted on the wall inside the announcer’s booth at the beginning of the movie. I took that photograph on the last day of production after the last shot. We lined them all up and took that. It was a bittersweet moment for me. That’s going to go into the restaurant…unless someone offers me half a million dollars for it. (Laughs)

What are you thinking about calling the restaurant?

I don’t know yet. Maybe something like DME’s American Sandlot. I mean, nobody’s going to build me a museum, so I’ll build one for myself.

I can’t even imagine how many times people quote the movie to you.

It’s very gratifying that all of that has made its way through our lexicon. I’ve had people from Paris, Australia, Japan, all over the world, that I meet and they’ll quote the movie in their own language. That’s a trip. Imagine “You’re killing me Smalls” in Japanese!

I know you’ve had a chance to connect with some of the original kids for the anniversary. Are you going to get to see all of them again during some point of this tour?

I really hope so. I haven’t seen a lot of them in quite a long time. In Trenton, New Jersey, I saw Tom Guiry who played Scotty Smalls. He came over and hung out with me at the ballpark where we were having a screening. Patrick Renna (Ham Porter) and Chauncey [Leopardi] (Squints Palledorous) have come out with me to a couple of the big venues like Target Stadium in Minneapolis and Arlington Stadium in Dallas. Over the course of the next 15 or so events they’ll come and go. But there is a big event happening that the Utah State Film Commission put together because that’s where we shot the movie. They’re having a dedication ceremony right on the piece of land where we shot the movie with a big granite historical marker and a bronze plaque and photo. The governor’s going to be there. I’m going to be there. And I think most of the original cast is going to be there.

You’ve told this story before, but can you tell me about the day on the set when you shot the scene at the pool where Squints kisses Wendy Peffercorn?

Sure! First of all, you have to understand, these are all 12 or 13 year old young men. You remember when you were that old? Only one thing mattered, right? (Laughs) So, there are these nine 13-year-old guys full of piss and vinegar and they’re going through that change in life. They’re in a movie and it’s kind of like summer camp and it’s tons of fun. Then, of course, there are no girls. There are no girls in the movie except for the mom (Karen Allen). Chauncey (Squints), of course, knew that we were going to shoot the scene on this one Sunday. So the closer we got to the date he was like, “Are we going to shoot that scene today, Mr. Evans? Are we going to shoot the scene?” He was getting really anxious, which I loved as a director. I didn’t have to tell him anything. He was already strung tighter than a piano wire. Finally, the day comes and we go to the pool and he was ready to do it but we didn’t get to the scene. We were scheduled to go to the pool for three days. So, the next day we go back and I told him, “Yeah, we’re definitely going to get to it today.” This guy was vibrating. He was so anxious. At the end of the day I was like, “That’s a wrap. I guess we’ll get to the scene tomorrow.” So, the next day is the last day at the pool, so he knows we’re going to do it that day. So he gets ready and we do the scene and he pretends he is drowning and we get him up on the deck and I yell, “Cut!” and say, “Chauncey, come here.” Now, Marley Shelton (Wendy Peffercorn), beautiful girl, was 18 at the time. Of course, all these guys are running around with their tongues hanging out. She was like a goddess to them, especially to Chauncey. Off screen, he was not a goofy kid. He was a little player. He had a lot of confidence. Anyway, I called him over and said, “OK, we’re going to do the scene now.” He was like, “OK, I understand.” Then I said, “So listen now. This is going to be the most important piece of direction you’re going to get your entire life whether you continue to be an actor or not.” Now, he’s staring at me and I’m trying not to bust out laughing. So, I tell him, “When we do this scene, you keep your tongue in your mouth.” I expected him to start laughing, but he was serious and said, “OK, sir. Yes, sir I will.” (Laughs) We understood each other and he did the scene and it was great. He gave that great grin. I was like, “That’s it, man. It ain’t gonna get any better than that.”

So, honestly, are P.F. Flyers really as cool as the movie makes them out to be?

Oh, heck, yeah. Greatest sneaker in the history of mankind. Did you know P.F. Flyers is our sponsor on the tour? Also, this year is P.F. Flyer’s 75th anniversary. In celebration of their 75th anniversary and “The Sandlot’s” 20th anniversary, they put out a special edition of the P.F. Flyers in a vintage 1962 shoebox. The shoe itself is classic high-top black, but the insole of the shoe says “The Sandlot” and there’s a tag on the inside that says “The secret weapon.” They made 1,000 pairs. They sold out in three days. I auctioned off a pair the other day for charity and a guy bought them for $1,000. That’s how incredible they are.